4. Irony in Pride and Prejudice
Irony is the opposite of what is said. It is created with the help of use of words or phrases. Their use means the opposite to its normal meanings. Sometimes, irony is confusing and sometimes it is amusing. Its forms are situational irony, cosmic irony, dramatic irony, Socratic irony and sarcasm. We have the best example of “The Prologue to the Canterbury Tales” by Geoffrey Chaucer. It is full of ironic touches. Clergy who is a corrupt fellow has been given ironic touches. Similarly, the Friar has been referred as a “wanton and merry” person who is always ready to take bribe. He also seduces women.
Jane Austen is very skillful and expert in using irony. It is one of the prominent features of her writings. However, the novel “Pride and Prejudice” is more prominent than all the other writings regarding her use of irony. In this novel, we come across all kinds of irony i.e. verbal, situational and dramatic. Now let’s discuss all these kinds and their use in the novel one by one.
Verbal irony is actually the figure of speech. The speaker uses the words but his intent is opposite to the words he uses. The use of verbal irony is true expression of Jane Austen’s wit. The best example of its use can be observed in the very opening lines of the novel: “It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.” The irony in this line is that actually a single woman must be in want of a good man with a good fortune. That’s why, “a truth universally acknowledged’ is “a truth not universally acknowledged.’ This opening line also leads us to empty headed Mrs. Bennet who is in search of wealthy men for her daughters who are five in number. Sometimes, the characters in the novel become ironic but unconsciously. The best examples are Mr. Bennet and Elizabeth. Mr. Bennet becomes strange in his attitude because of his relationship with his wife. Once, he mocks the stupidity of his wife in the following words. “You mistake me, my dear. I have a high respect for your nerves… They are my old friends. I have heard you mention them with consideration these twenty years at least.” Being trapped in a marriage that is an utter failure, he escapes his duties as a husband and as a father. After Lydia’s proposal to go to Brighton, Mr. Bennet remarks: “Lydia will never be easy till she has exposed herself in some public place” Similarly, he remarks: “and we can never expect her to do it with so little expense or inconvenience to her family as under the present circumstances.” This statement by Mr. Bennet is very ironic because Lydia exposes her family in the end and the expense Mr. Bennet claims that it would be little is not little. It is enormous expense that Lydia causes. Same is the case with Elizabeth. In a ball, she rejects Darcy’s proposal of dance with her and mocks Darcy with the following words: “Darcy is all politeness” and “I am perfectly convinced by it that Mr. Darcy has no defect.” She is very quick in finding fault with the people. Mr. Collins is a victim of self-importance. He is sycophant in his attitude towards Lady Catharine De Bourgh. About Mr. Collins, she remarks: “They…were indebted to Mr. Collins for the knowledge of what carriages went along, and how often especially Miss De Bourgh drove by in her phaeton, which he never failed coming to inform them of, though it happened almost every day.” Similarly, we see her criticizing the contrast between Wickham’s duplicity and Darcy’s honesty to Jane: “There certainly was some great mismanagement in the education of those two young men. One has got all the goodness, and the other all the appearance of it.” Even she accuses Bingley of being over-compliance in his reliance on Darcy. She also censures Darcy for his lack of social grace to his face.
Similarly, dramatic irony has been used by Jane Austen in her novel. Dramatic irony is actually a situation in which the reader is aware of the situation but the characters have no idea of that situation. Darcy’s feelings of inclination for Elizabeth are a situation which the reader starts guessing. The reader knows very well that Darcy’s willingness to dance with Elizabeth is not fake and artificial. However, Elizabeth is sure that Darcy does not have any feelings of liking for her. Similarly, Elizabeth believes that Jane does not know the faults of others. It is ironic because Elizabeth actually does not know the true character of Darcy. The reason is her prejudice against him. Darcy’s character also shows touches of dramatic irony. Darcy does not like to dance with Elizabeth but the irony is that he is in love with Elizabeth.
Situational irony has also been used very skillfully by Jane Austen. It is the form of irony in which something occurs but not according to the expectations of the readers or the characters. The very first example appears before us in a party at Lucas Lodge. After the dance starts in the party, Lucas pursues Darcy to join the dance, Darcy remarks: “Every savage can dance.” After these remarks, we are surprised to see him ready to dance with Elizabeth. It is the perfect example of situational irony created by Jane Austen. Similarly, the most important example of situational irony is Darcy’s feelings of love and falling in love with Elizabeth. In the beginning, he remarks regarding Elizabeth: “She is not handsome enough to tempt me.” But later, we see Darcy claiming that Elizabeth is one of the handsome women he has ever come across. Likewise, Elizabeth does not like Darcy and starts having prejudice against Darcy begins to like Darcy and marries him in the end.
Irony in character is more distinguished that irony of situation. The Bingley sisters do not like the Bennets. They actually dislike them and hate them for their vulgarity but actually the Bingley sisters are themselves vulgar. Lady Catherine de Bourgh thinks that she is a graceful woman but actually she is self-conceited and proud woman. Mr. Collins is proud of being a clergyman but his portrait is ironical portrait of a sycophant. Wickham is graceful in appearance but he is actually a villain.
To sum up, the novel has been made a master-piece with the help of skillful use of irony and its forms. This skillful use of all kinds of irony clearly shows Jane Austen’s wit. She is thought to be an artist of limited range but within this range, she is adept in her use of irony.